Boo ghosts home
Walk the narrow back streets of the Barri Gòtic at night when the moonlight is reflecting off the medieval stone walls, and it’s easy to sense that for well over a thousand years people have walked the same streets. The energy of the past is always present in this city, making Barcelona fertile ground for ghost stories as people attempt to explain seemingly supernatural or bizarre occurrences in their lives.
One focus for these stories is the Gran Teatre del Liceu opera-house. Not only does the Liceu have a troubled history, but the romantic and passionate nature of opera lends itself well to the development of extraordinary stories of life beyond the grave. One legend maintains that the site was the setting for executions during the Middle Ages and has been cursed ever since. The tragic history of the Liceu would seem to corroborate this belief: built in 1847, it was damaged by fire in 1861, suffered an anarchist bomb attack in 1893 that killed 20 people, while a fire completely destroyed the theatre in 1994.
The Mercat de Sant Antoni is another site rumoured to be haunted, because it is said that the area was a venue for the carrying out of death sentences for many years, and that no one would build on the site after 1855 because of the strange sounds of souls crying out in pain during the night. Finally, the government took the initiative and built the market to integrate the formerly empty lot into the urban landscape.
Bizarre sounds are also heard in the Museu de Zoologia, according to some who say that it is filled with inexplicable and unearthly animal cries during the night. It is even rumoured that guards have abandoned their posts over the last few years in fear of the creepy night noises. Perhaps that is one reason the makeup artists for the fearful fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth turned to the museum’s collections for inspiration.
Tourists have also had their share of odd occurrences in Barcelona. Surfing through on-line reviews of local hotels, one can find snippets of strange tales. One woman claims that her nine-year-old son had his hair ruffled by a ghost on the balcony of their eerie, dimly-lit room in the Hotel Rey Don Jaime I.
Account of a count
Comte Arnau is probably the most well-known ghost to Catalans. According to legend, Arnau, a rich nobleman from the 13th century, was condemned to ride a fiery horse for all eternity due to the sins he committed while alive, supposedly more numerous than those of Satan himself. Arnau has fire coming from his mouth and eyes and is accompanied on his never-ending journey by a group of devilish dogs. Some say that the count is not yet dead, and what people have seen is not his ghostly spirit, but the poor blighter himself. Keep an eye out for him on the 31st, if you dare.
While most of the ghosts of Barcelona are rooted in the distant past, there are a few from modern times. Ezequiel Sarser, 35, from Buenos Aires, who lived in Barcelona for eight years, claimed that his girlfriend woke him in a panic one night in his Barceloneta apartment. She pushed his head to the wall with extreme force and said in a frantic whisper, “Do not turn your head. Do not look this way.”
In the morning, she claimed that she had seen the ghost of a young woman standing in the doorway. Sarser, a skeptic of supernatural tales, said that he could not discount her story due to the sheer force of her belief in what she saw. Later, after hearing similar stories from neighbours, they decided the ghost may have been the apparition of a young woman who died in a fire on the ship Lamu in Barcelona harbour in 2002.
A city with such an extensive and multi-layered past is ripe for the growth of rumours, secrets, legends and ghost stories. Whether tricks of the imagination or attempts to explain the inexplicable, ghost stories seem to be a natural expression of the affect so much history has had on the lives both of those who live here and those just passing through.